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Complaint filed in superior court to force town of Green Level to turn over public records related to May 2023 rezoning

A complaint and petition for a writ of mandamus (i.e., a request for a court order) has been filed in Alamance County civil superior court to compel the town of Green Level to turn over public records related to a rezoning decision for two mobile home parks decided at a special meeting on May 30, 2023.

The complaint and petition has been filed by the companies that own two mobile home parks within the town of Green Level’s jurisdiction: Personalized Village II, which owns Otter Creek Mobile Home Park at 2648 and 2606 East Simpson Road; and Green Level MHC, which owns the Green Level Mobile Home Community at 2156 James Boswell Road, according to the court file.

The plaintiffs contend that, as of July 17, the date on which they filed the complaint and petition, the town of Green Level still had not furnished the documents they had requested in the public records request filed with the town on June 9, according to the court file. Their complaint states that the public records are being requested, “in part, to prepare a civil action against the Town challenging that rezoning, which is subject to a 60-day statute of limitations, pursuant to [state law], making the deadline to file the complaint July 29, 2023.”

The plaintiffs in the action (Personalized Village II and Green Level MHC) are asking a superior court judge to order the town to permit inspection and copying of numerous documents and other public records related to a rezoning for Otter Creek Mobile Home Park and Green Level Mobile Home Community, which was the focus of the special meeting. The plaintiffs contend that the May 30, 2023 rezoning of their properties “was unlawful and violated [state law] and other applicable law in multiple ways,” the complaint states.

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The affected properties were rezoned from “mobile home park” districts to R12, a zoning designation for general residential use with lot sizes of 12,000 square feet each, according to the town of Green Level’s land use ordinance and minutes from the special meeting that the town council held on May 30.

The complaint and petition specifically lists five separate parcels that are affected by the rezoning and “all properties previously zoned” for mobile home parks on James Boswell Road; East and West Simpson roads; Carter Road; and N.C. Highway 49.

The complaint and petition asserts that one of the owners of Personalized Village, Charles Whitman, initially went to the Green Level town hall on June 12 to try to get copies “of some of the requested documents that were readily on hand.” Whitman spoke to an unidentified town employee, who acknowledged receipt of the public records request and informed Whitman that the town clerk was on vacation and no other employees were authorized to provide any documents.

Whitman returned to Green Level’s town hall later the same week and was again told that the documents would not be available until the town clerk returned from vacation. “However, later that day, the town mayor called Mr. Whitman’s cell phone and informed him that everything Mr. Whitman needed was now ‘on-line,’” the complaint and petition states.

An attorney for the two plaintiffs, Robin Tatum of the Fox Rothschild law firm in Raleigh, initially filed a public records request on June 9 to obtain copies of public records, which included:

• The current version of the town of Green Level zoning ordinance and all amendments adopted since July 1, 2019;

• The current version of the town’s land development plan and all amendments adopted since July 2019;

• The most recent version of the town’s zoning map;

• All documents which relate to or identify the members of the town planning board, including documents that establish the appointment of planning board members by the town council;

• All documents related in any way to rezoning maps and/or amendments adopted and approved by Green Level’s town council on May 30, 2023.

The plaintiffs are also seeking to obtain copies of “any and all agendas and minutes (both draft and final) from all” planning board meetings at which the rezoning proposal was discussed and any vote was taken, or recommendation made; all written reports from the planning board; any and all documents that discuss why the rezonings were initiated; and a raft of other public records related to the rezoning adopted on May 30, 2023, according to a copy of the June 9 public records request that is included in the court file.

The two mobile home park owners are also seeking “any and all documents that discuss and/or relate to any alleged water shortage” within the town of Green Level, as well as any studies related to the relationship between water supply and mobile/manufactured home parks “and/or any other type of development” within the town.

The plaintiffs are also requesting copies of all documents related to a town “Water Shortage Response Plan,” which they say was referenced by Green Level’s town administrator, Barrett Brown, during the meeting on May 30 of this year.

In addition, the plaintiffs are also requesting copies of all “informal internal records such as emails, text messages, memoranda and letters,” regardless of what form they may be in.

The attorney, Tatum, also pointed out in the public records request, “Please be advised that emails and text messages are public records and may not be disposed of, erased or destroyed and that public records include emails and text messages sent to or from personal email addresses and cell phones if such emails and texts relate to Town business.”

A subsequent inquiry that the plaintiffs’ attorney sent to the Green Level town clerk, Jeremy Edmonds, on June 28 appears not to have yielded a response, based on copies of documents and correspondence that are included in the court file.

The town of Green Level had not filed a response to the complaint and petition by press time.

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